When Palermo Galindo moved to San Antonio as a 15-year-old in 1984, he didn’t speak a word of English.
“I started high school and, you name it, culture shock, language shock,” Galindo said. “What am I going to do here?”
More than 30 years later, the bilingual Galindo uses his lifetime’s worth of experience to help newcomers in his work as the Hispanic and immigrant liaison with the city of Fort Wayne. Beyond that, he helps Hispanic business owners in his volunteer role as president of the Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The Hispanic Chamber continues to grow, reflecting the ongoing growth of the Hispanic community in Fort Wayne.
The 2010 census listed the number of Hispanic residents in Fort Wayne at 23,000, and Galindo expects that number to continue to rise. That growth is reflected — through the hard work of Galindo and others — in the increase of members in the Hispanic Chamber, which has 85 members, up from 30 only three years ago.
Well before 2020, Galindo expects the Hispanic Chamber to have over 100 members and for the community and its businesses to continue to expand.
He has helped establish the Hispanic Chamber’s proactive work in the community, which includes quarterly meetings at various venues where networking and communication continues to increase. The next meeting in June will feature Chuck Surack of Sweetwater Sound. Past speakers have included Nancy Jordan, senior vice president of Lincoln Financial Group; Mark Becker, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.; and Ben Miles, chief operating officer of Parkview Health, among others.
With spending power as well as many entrepreneurs in the Hispanic community, it has been important to have a resource to bring the business community together, Galindo said.
“We have a good mix of people who are members,” Galindo said. “We have millennials. We have seasoned professionals. We have a good, diverse group of women and other minorities as well.”
The Hispanic Chamber also collaborates with other chambers, as well as the Fort Wayne Urban League and other community organizations, he said.
“The way I see it, as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, we’re not only catering to the Hispanic community,” Galindo said. “We like to be inclusive because that’s how you grow.”
State Farm Insurance agent Valentine White-Xayarath is a great example of the diversity. She is African-American but has a multicultural staff working with her, reaching out to the Hispanic and Burmese communities. She joined the Hispanic Chamber in part because one of her staff, Leticia Martinez, a longtime friend, is Hispanic.
“She felt a big need to really help her community and really help the Hispanic-speaking people,” White-Xayarath said. “I thought (joining the Hispanic Chamber) was a great way to help her meet that need and to be more engulfed in the community.”
Members of the Hispanic Chamber are excited about the recent growth of the organization and the inroads it has made toward building a stronger business community and networking outlet.
“Under Palermo’s leadership, I have seen the Hispanic Chamber grow and cultivate relationships with vast and diverse entrepreneurs and organizations, which I think is beneficial to the members and the Fort Wayne business community,” said Lourdes Williams, president of InterCultural Interpretation Services. “The chamber has been invaluable in directing us to local resources and in helping us connect with key leaders in the community. It has helped our business grow and provide an important service, language interpretation, to the growing Hispanic community.”
One key part of growth in Hispanic-owned businesses in Fort Wayne is the community’s willingness to explore areas of need.
When Galindo first came to Fort Wayne after a few years in Chicago, he earned a degree from IPFW and started a photography business, filling a need in the Hispanic community. He points to Cesar Ruiz, the Hispanic Chamber’s vice president, as a success story in tapping into a need with his cellphone repair business.
“Traditionally, our culture is very entrepreneurial,” Galindo said.
Fernando Zapari, editor and publisher of El Mexicano Newspaper, said he feels the innovations and changes in the Hispanic Chamber over the past few years have been a great boost. He said the Hispanic community is very loyal to businesses that provide quality services and products.
“It’s not just Hispanic business owners but non-Hispanic business owners who are tapping into the market,” Zapari said. “There has been a lot of innovation with the chamber.”
The quarterly meetings of the Hispanic Chamber regularly draw 45-60 people. They are titled “Cuarto Jueves” (fourth Thursday) and take place in March, June, September and December. The events are held at different venues.
“Ideas are shared and business advice is freely given,” said Mark Richter of Indiana Tech, who serves as executive director for the Center for Creative Collaboration. “As the Hispanic community continues to grow in our region, I fully expect the (Hispanic Chamber) to play an expanding role in helping businesses start, expand and thrive.”
Galindo points to Hispanic purchasing power as an indicator of the opportunities for all businesses in the area. Nationwide, Hispanic purchasing power is estimated to be $1.5 trillion in 2015, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.
“Those numbers continue to grow, and they fuel the economy, as well,” Galindo said. “There definitely will be continued growth.”